Classic kung-fu movies from the 1970s tend to be largely indistinguishable from one another, to the point where they blend in your memory into a single homogenous mass of “Hiii-ya!” One of the few genuine trailblazers was Chang Cheh’s The 5 Deadly Venoms (1978), which boasted a concept so memorable that it was even parodied in the animated Kung Fu Panda. Each of the titular “venoms” is a martial-arts virtuoso trained in a different animal-based style—there’s the Scorpion, the Lizard, the Snake, the Toad and, uh, the Centipede. (“Why do I have to be Mr. Pink?”) What’s more, they all wear animal masks, so that even their former master doesn’t know their true identities when he sends his youngest protégé after them to prevent them from stealing his clan’s precious loot. The usual ass-kicking malarkey ensues, with terrific fight choreography and stunt work mostly compensating for the snooze-worthy dialogue sequences.
Given this film’s reputation in the Shaw Brothers canon, you’d think Dragon Dynasty would have put a little more effort into the DVD release. While the picture is gratifyingly sharp and the sound emphatic (the original mono track has been remixed for Dolby), there are no extras apart from the standard audio commentary by Hong Kong historian Bey Logan, who knows his stuff but sometimes comes across as a little dry and scholarly. (He does offer a suitable drinking game, however.) Perhaps the best feature for longtime aficionados of the genre, though, is the option to forgo subtitles and instead listen to the hilariously awful English-language dub that most of us saw these movies saddled with back in the day. Hiiiii-ya!